Getting Started

This is the beginning of the Loyalty Lab project, a set of experiments to encourage repeat and deepening participation in small and medium-sized museums and arts organizations. This work is funded by the fine folks in the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, who believed in this vision and bought in, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services through their Spark Ignition grant program.

Here’s what we asked them to support:

Our goal is to celebrate and cultivate deeper relationships with participants, using low-tech, low-cost techniques that are accessible to small and mid-sized institutions. These participants could be visitors, volunteers, users, patrons–whatever you call the people who engage with your organization.

Here at our small museum, we’re doing a lot of projects that invite people to actively participate as part of their experience. Visitors help paint murals, write labels, and generally get involved in lots of ways while they’re here. The lines between visitor, volunteer, and staff member are often quite blurred–and yet, we do very little to acknowledge the ways that people get engaged and sustain involvement over time. We have very high ability to form relationships with visitors, but very low ability to capitalize on those interactions. We would like to intentionally build on one-time experiences to develop the kinds of relationships and loyalty that will really sustain their involvement with our institution and our mission.

We propose to do a series of experiments around building customer loyalty. This isn’t about knowing which donor move we’re on–it’s about creating legitimate relationships with visitors that are backed up with fun, surprising, and supportive materials. We’ve seen plenty of unsuccessful, overbuilt systems to allow visitors to generate their own websites of photos taken onsite or content tagged. We don’t want to do that. We want to delight people with simple, low-tech interactions and items that make them feel valued–just as we would do as we build personal relationships.

For example, we might play with:

  • loyalty punch cards that encourage repeat visitation
  • badges, cards, or trinkets that allow people to “level up” and receive rewards for increasing their involvement
  • different ways to help people connect what they do to other visitors – i.e. being able to tell someone that another visitor came in and commented on their story or added to their collage
  • ways for our staff and volunteers to recognize and celebrate people who are really involved in specific ways – not just to be friendly, but to be able to say, “It’s awesome that you have come to so many music events. Do you play an instrument?”

This lightweight website is a place where we share our experiments and all the data on what works, what doesn’t, and what formats we create so that anyone in the cultural community can use and build on the ideas. As someone who has run community sites and blogs, I’m realistic that this is not going to become a highly active site with lots of contributions–but I promise you that my staff and volunteers (and I) will be populating it with useful material that will be in a very consumable and reusable format. We hope that you will come along with us on this adventure as commenters, contributors, readers, and provocateurs.